Anglers, Fraters & Other Deceivers

In his book, The Town, Leigh Hunt, describes the various criminals who were infesting London during the reign of Charles II:

“The Ruffler was a wretch who assumed the character of a maimed soldier, and begged from the claims of Naseby, Edgehill, Newbury, and Marston Moor. Those who were stationed in the city of London were generally found in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden; and their prey was people of fashion, whose coaches were attacked boldly; and if denied, their owners were told, ‘Tis a sad thing that an old crippled cavalier should be suffered to beg for a maintenance, and a young cavalier that had never heard the whistle of a bullet should ride in his coach.’

“There were people called Anglers, from the nature of their method of depredating, which was thus.—They had a rod or stick, with an iron hook affixed: this they introduced through a window, or any other aperture, where plunder might be procured, and helped themselves at pleasure; the day was occupied by them in the character of beggars, when they made their observations for the angling of the night.

“Wild Rogues were the offspring of thieves and beggars, who received the rudiments of the art even before they left their mothers’ backs: “To go into churches and great crowds, and to nim golden buttons off men’s cloaks; and being very little are shown how to creep into cellar windows, or other small entrances, and in the night to convey out thereat whatever they can find to the thievish receivers, who wait without for that purpose; and sometimes do open the door to let in such who have designed to rob the house; if taken, the tenderness of their age makes an apology or an excuse for their fault, and so are let alone to be hanged at riper years.’

“Palliards or Clapperdogeons, were those women who sat and reclined in the streets, with their own borrowed or stolen children hanging about them, crying through cold, pinching, or real disease, who begged relief as widows, and, in the name of their fatherless children, gaining by this artifice, ‘a great deal of money, whilst her comrogue lies begging in the fields, with climes or artificial sores.’ The way they commonly take to make them is by sperewort or arsenic, which will draw blisters; or they take unslacked lime and soap, mingled with the rust of old iron: these being well tempered together, and spread thick upon two pieces of leather, they apply to the leg, binding it thereunto very hard, which in a very little time would fret the skin so that the flesh would appear all raw, &c. &c.

“Fraters were impostors who went through the country with forged patents for briefs, and thus diverted charity from its proper direction.

“Abram men were fellows whose occupations seem to have been forgotten. They are described in the ‘Canting Academy’ in these words:—’Abram men are otherwise called Tom of Bedlams; they are very strangely and antickly garbed, with several coloured ribands or tape in their hats, it may be instead of a feather, a fox tail hanging down, a long stick with ribands streaming, and the like; yet for all their seeming madness they have wit enough to steal as they go.’

“The Whip-Jacks have left us a specimen of their fraternity. They were counterfeit mariners, whose conversations were plentifully embellished with sea-terms, and falsehoods of their danger in the exercise of their profession. Instead of securing their arms and legs close to their bodies, and wrapping them in bandages (as the modern whip-jack is in the habit of doing, to excite compassion for the loss of limbs and severe wounds), the ancients merely pretended they had lost their all by shipwreck, and were reduced to beg their way to a sea-port, if in the country; or to some remote one, if in London.

“Mumpers.—The persons thus termed are described as being of both sexes: they were not solicitors for food, but money and cloathes. ‘The male mumper, in the times of the late usurpation, was clothed in an old torn cassock, begirt with a girdle, with a black cap, and a white one peeping out underneath.’ With a formal and studied countenance he stole up to a gentleman, and whispered him softly in the ear, that he was a poor sequestered parson, with a wife and many children. At other times, they would assume the habit of a decayed gentleman, and beg as if they had been ruined by their attachment to the royal cause. Sometimes the mumper appeared with an apron before him, and a cap on his head, and begs in the nature of a broken tradesman, who, having been a long time sick, hath spent all his remaining stock, and so weak he cannot work! The females of this class of miscreants generally attacked the ladies, and in a manner suited to make an impression on their finer feelings.

“Domerars are such as counterfeit themselves dumb, and have a notable art to roll their tongues up into the roof of their mouth, that you would verily believe their tongues were cut out; and, to make you have a stronger belief thereof, they will gape and show you where it was done, clapping in a sharp stick, and, touching the tongue, make it bleed—and then the ignorant dispute it no further.’

“Patricos are the strolling priests: every hedge is their parish, and every wandering rogue their parishioner. The service, he saith, is the marrying of couples, without the Gospel, or Book of Common Prayer, the solemnity whereof is thus: the parties to be married find out a dead horse, or any other beast, and standing the one on the one side and the other on the other, the patrico bids them to live together till death them part; and, so shaking hands, the wedding is ended.'”

Further reading:
The Town by Leigh Hunt

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